This week, during my commute, I listened to Dr. Laura Schlessinger's audiobook - In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms. You may ask what a working mom like myself is doing reading/listening to this book in particular? Well, I often fantasize about taking a few years out of the rat race and staying home myself. I also was the beneficiary of having an amazing stay-at-home mom while growing up. And, frankly, I was curious about the controversy surrounding the book. Dr. Laura is known for stirring up a few pots in her time. Knowing her stance on working moms (i.e. we're the scum of the earth), I went in cautiously.
I was encouraged in the prolouge when she said that this book was to be in praise of stay at home moms rather than a jab at working moms. But that warm fuzzy feeling of optimism lasted about one minute - long enough for her to snidely and facetiously throw a few upper cuts into the working mom jaw.
This book left me feeling very ... bipolar. In one instance, I'd be nodding my head in agreement with what she was saying. In the next, I'd be ready to punch her in the face! After all, I do believe to a degree in traditional gender roles (and try to respect them as much as I can in my own marriage despite my working status), and I do believe that there is no replacement whatsoever for the love and attention of mommy. There is no doubt that loose ends go untied when you have a two-career family, and there is tremendous value is having someone to "make the home." Plus, I think she has many great points and suggestions (although I've never tried it myself beyond a few months of maternity leave here and there) for being a happy and fulfilled stay-at-home mom.
Dr. Laura, however, goes much much further. She cannot suffice to say that care of infants and young children by their mother is best. Nope - she goes on to say that care by others is harmful, daycare is "warehousing" and abandoment of children, and that a mother who does not gladly take on the task of raising her children fulltime simply does not love her children enough to make the sacrifice. Wow. Ouch!
Another thing that disturbed my post-graduate-educated mind is the fact that she bases all of this on anecdotal evidence - her own experiences, her radio-program callers, letters she's received and experiences she's heard about. She makes a point to state that research has no role in the debate (well, for her, there is no debate), and that people can twist the data to make it say whatever they want. But I beg the question - what do snippets of people's life experiences prove? I'm sure that you can find many stories about working moms who manage to balance the best of both worlds (I'm still working on that...). Plus, I know first hand that you can have an amazingly strong bond with your children and raise them to be secure and self-confident thriving individuals even if they spend some time in the care of someone other than myself! (Don't you dare mention the benefits of this care arrangment to Dr. Laura - she'll hear none of it).
Of course, she justifies her own radio career by stating that she was able to work her career around her family rather than vice-versa by working only at night. Well, that's fine and dandy for her, but the Courts aren't open after 4:30 p.m., and I doubt opposing counsel would appreciate a phone call from me at 9:00 p.m. when my children are tucked away in bed. While I do burn the midnight oil more frequently than not, it is a fact of my profession (and I dare say most) that work be done during normal business hours.
I think the danger in Dr. Laura's proposition (that all mothers should stay out of the work force until their children are grown, if ever), is in throwing the advancement of women back about 100 years. There is no doubt that the world benefits tremendously from having a little more estrogen infused into this testosterone-dominated world. Women bring tremendous value to their professions and our world! Its a nice idea to say that you can jump in full force when your children are grown, but in reality, it doesn't often work that way. She is right - my lawyering (in isolation) is not more important to the world than my mothering. But the fallacy in this is thinking that I am not mothering! I fight and claw to make sure I get have plenty of quality time with my children (not saying its easy or I'm 100% successful), and I see two amazing individuals blossoming who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their mommy is there when they need them. To throw out some anecdotal evidence of my own - I have a friend who worked for about 3 years after her daughter was born at a high-powered job in Washington, D.C. When her husband took a position overbroad and her son was born, she decided to stay at home with the kids. She does not feel like she's "mothering" any more now than she did before!
Yes, for some women, and for some families, having mom at home full time may be the absolute right thing. But its an insult to women to think that we are too selfish or stupid to make that determination for ourselves. And it leaves those of us who cannot do so for financial reasons feeling like crap.
So, yes, I want to praise stay-at-home moms (and perhaps dabble in the arena myself one day!) because they add tremendous value to families and communities. But for pete's sake (or Mary's or Katherine's, etc.), can we do that without striking a knock-out blow to women who work?????
Anyway, in the end I guess I got what I expected all along from the book.